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PQA Panel Talks: Getting Certified in Accessibility Testing

In this episode of PQA Panel Talks, our host, Mike Hrycyk, is sitting down for a one-on-one conversation with our Director of Service Delivery in Ontario, Abhishek Gupta. In the last year, Abhishek has put together a training certification for PQA on the fundamentals of accessibility testing. Since then all PQA employees working on accessibility testing projects have taken the certification to great success. Tune in to hear about how and why Abhishek went about creating this certification and learn how accessibility is helping our team members grow as software testers.

Episode Transcript:

Mike Hrycyk:
Hello, everyone. Welcome back to PQA Panel Talks. I’m your host, Mike Hrycyk and today we’re going to shake things up a little bit! In the last couple of years, PQA has gone down a little bit of a different road for ourselves. We decided that we were going to become a certification granting organization, and we aren’t going to grant certifications in everything, but we decided that we would start with accessibility. And so today what we’re going to do is we’re going to talk with Abhishek Gupta, who is our Director of Service Delivery in Ontario, who has a passion for educating testers. He has a passion for accessibility, and he has a passion for having the people who work for him grow and become better testers. So he put all of this together and sort of founded this program for us. So what I thought we would do today is we brought Abhishek in alone. No other guests. We’re going focus on Abhishek, and he’s going to tell us the story of how we decided to do this, why we’re doing it, what it looks like, and maybe, if you’re an organization that wants to do this, maybe you look at building your own certification program or at least have enough information to decide why or why not to do it. So without any further ado, I’m going to kick it over to you Abhishek. And, let’s get started — let’s talk about what it looks like, what a curriculum is, what a person gets out of it, and then let’s back up and go to, well, how we get started. Over to you Abhishek!

Abhishek Gupta:
Thank you, Mike. Thanks for having me here and it is always exciting to talk about certifications. I myself like doing a lot of certifications, obviously more into quality assurance and testing and project management. Accessibility certification is something which we were not thinking about having to start and getting such a great response. It all started at least a year back. Accessibility testing is not new to PQA and PLATO. We have been helping clients for more than 10 years now, but at the same time, we have seen that the internet and the speed of products reaching the hands of customers that need the have grown by multi-folds and at the same time, very much specific about what it has to do with accessibility testing. And we could see that need also wanted us to take a shift into how we are approaching our capabilities in accessibility testing. And I think that just became an idea that let’s talk about more fundamental knowledge of accessibility and get our people trained. And we started talking about this certification program, which is exclusively for our internal PQA/PLATO employees.

Mike Hrycyk:
Awesome. So what hurdles did you have internally when the idea of being a certificate granter came up?

Abhishek Gupta:
Oh, I would say that was one of the toughest phases to pass. One thing, which is core at PQA and PLATO is about fundamentals of testing. We live and breathe testing. No brainer. From top to bottom, PQA/PLATO is about thinking about a better way of doing testing. But one thing which takes everyone over here is fundamentals. Talking about accessibility fundamentals is something I got different opinions from my peers from leaders why do we need a certification program when there could be tons in the market already? And, do we really feel that accessibility is so tough that we need to train and teach our people in this area? So I had to really try hard to present a kind of foolproof business case. Why do we want to do it? And why other forums or certification providers across the globe are not very much specific about quality assurance and testing angles? There are a lot of portals and resources where you can go and learn about what is accessibility, what is WCAG, but there are very limited resources when it comes to how you can think about test cases, test design, and testing techniques. And that is where I think I submitted that need to the upper management and also laid out what is going to be the curriculum, how many days, who is going to be an SME and what the certification would look like. So it was quite a chase and quite a, disagreement also at the start, but finally, we got the agreement and consensus that let’s try it out and see whether it is working and giving an answer to better fundamentals of accessibility or not.

Mike Hrycyk:
So you segued nicely in there for me. Let’s dig in a little bit deeper into what does the curriculum, what’s the program looks like?

Abhishek Gupta:
Great. I think, before jumping into the program, let’s talk at least for a minute, just to recap on accessibility testing. I know this has taken a lot of mainstream nowadays in it industries wherein accessibility slowly and steadily is getting the main stage, but I would still like to start with the definition of accessibility testing. It is one of the non-functional testing, which has to be treated and dealt with differently. Unlike other testing types and nonfunctional, because this testing you have to go behind the minds and scenarios of people with disabilities. And when I say people with disabilities, I’m talking about visual impairments, motor impairments, hearing impairments, and so on and so forth. Now, this particular nonfunctional testing needs people to know assistive technologies. Now, when I say assistive technologies, I’m talking about screen readers, physical switches, Bluetooth keyboards, and a lot of other software, which are embedded in your systems and computers.

Abhishek Gupta:
This was a different type of course, which we had to think about because if we look at a QA professional, most likely it’s going to be unless that QA had performed an accessibility test, the chances are that QA might have never, ever heard about this particular testing, or might have not any experience on it. So we wanted to start it in a way that that QA can perform exactly the type of test thinking about how a person with some disabilities is going to perform. So that is something which was a prerequisite — that we have to think from that angle. And then we steadily moved into knowing the testing is to first know the business need of why we are doing it, the need of the project, the need of the line of businesses. And that is where Mike, we started thinking about more understanding of guidelines, the requirements as such. And we shift our focus to understanding more of WCAG, which is Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. So it started with learning more about WCAG and then thinking about how we can achieve WCAG requirements through better testing techniques, better tooling, and better test planning.

Mike Hrycyk:
So what’s the curriculum look like? So I’m a student, I’m going to start learning how to be — I’m going to take this certification. What are my steps?

Abhishek Gupta:
Yes. So one of the asks from your earlier question about how I got the approval was that I had to present the entire training schedule with these session details and also the subjects which we are going to train our people. So, yes, I mean, it was a full month of training schedules that we had prepared. And when I say a full month, don’t get me wrong I didn’t mean to say that every day, eight hours. The way we had put this particular schedule in place is that two times a week for the entire month, that is roughly eight sessions in a month, is where we are going to deliver the knowledge about accessibility. It starts from day one, which is mainly about introduction to accessibility. As I mentioned, which type of testing does it belong to? How about people with disabilities — let’s understand what is the day-to-day challenges a person with a disability would face. And then very important that it is not only the social cause to support people with disabilities, making this internet more accessible. It is also about going through the accessibility laws, which are in Canada, America to name some, an AODA in Canada, Ontario specific, and ADA in the United States. And there are many across the globe. So one of the topics on day one was to throw some light onto these laws. And then move into WCAG guidelines of what are these requirements? So day one and day two, the first week, would be just talking about putting people into that particular room of accessibility and requirements and how it is impacting the lives of people if the applications are not built from the inception of the best coding practices and stuff. So that was week number one.

Abhishek Gupta:
Once we are able to set basic knowledge of what is accessibility, then we slowly move into week two and week two is when we take people into quality assurance and testing. And we all know that quality assurance and testing are about testing techniques and tools. So we then move into learning about what are the tools when it comes to accessibility testing? Are those only manual testing techniques wherein, for example, you can just zoom in your text size and see whether my applications are getting distorted or even breaking down if I do the zoom of 200 person, which is, by the way, one of the WCAG requirements? Or are there any tools in the market wherein a scanning can be done? So we went into all the tools in the accessibility area, mostly the open-source ones. So week two was mainly into talking about these tools and then giving the demos of these tools. So to name some, the screen readers, as in like WAVE, DQAXC, NVDA Screen Readers, and I can name all of them, but week two was more into giving demos of the tools.

Abhishek Gupta:
Then we move into week three. Out of all the accessibility efforts, if you talk to the IT teams and the PQA folks, or even the leaders who know accessibility testing in and out, the one area of the tool which is going to take the maximum time and the one area of the disability, which is impacted the most is to do with screen readers. So we know this a hundred percent sure. And we suggest this to our clients and prospects. That is the area where you definitely need to spend the maximum time on accessibility. That is the reason that week three will start by focusing more on screen readers. And week four will continue into more screen reader scenarios and testing, more assignments on screen readers and stuff like that. We will move into screen readers and we will talk about why there are so many screen readers. What are the top five screen readers in the market? How a screen reader will behave differently on a mobile device versus a desktop device. There are screen readers on your smartwatches also. There are screen readers on your other PDA also. So the last week is gonna be more into screen reader demos. When I say last week, let’s roughly take about the seventh session wherein we are able to go through the entire thing on the screen readers. And then it comes to the last session, wherein we are gonna talk about summarizing everything and doing sanity checklist reviews. What are the do, and don’ts? If the client is gonna ask to just do a quick sanity test, then how you are going to shape all your knowledge into a quick test or a detailed test. And then following that we will end up the course and give the assignments to all the students and participants, giving them a timeline of a week or two to submit the assignments back and review those assignments. And then there is a grading system obviously. We don’t certify everyone only the candidates and the participants who are able to submit the assignments and are able to convince us that they know. There are a lot of quizzes also, and one-on-one sessions also, if needed that, what have you learned? Why do you want to do accessibility? And after that, we will award them with PQA Fundamental Certifications.

Mike Hrycyk:
I don’t think you were doing a little dig there, but I remember the requirement that we made, that there’d be a curriculum that could be followed because it was me who made that requirement. And my goal for that was I didn’t want a certification just so that people would have an emblem they could put on their LinkedIn or something like that. I wanted something that we could defend as putting the right rigour, putting the right amount of information into it. If we had a client who wanted to understand our certification, we could say, yes, here’s our curriculum, here’s what our people learn. This is what they’re capable of. And, then the second part was that I didn’t want it just to be static learning either. So since your first 10-week course, we’ve done certification since then. So if I do a certification tomorrow, how is that different than your initial run, Abhishek?

Abhishek Gupta:
Oh, absolutely. Mike and I think one thing which I missed in the course’s details was that before we would certify any person on PQA’s certification program, there is one extra mandate that person has to go through an edX course, which is from WAI, web accessibility initiative, from W3C, world wide web consortium. So there is a very good course in fundamental knowledge of accessibility. So we would want that also to be completed. The only difference or the kind of a gap we saw on that particular course is that will give you the introduction to accessibility, but that will not tell you how to take that knowledge into quality assurance and testing. So our course is like adding on to that particular fundamental course and then taking the audience to the quality assurance and testing now.

Mike Hrycyk:
Sorry. Can I ask for clarification there? So maybe I had a personal misunderstanding. I thought we just required them to go and take the test that you can take for that course. Do we actually ask them to run through the course?

Abhishek Gupta:
Oh yes. So not only run through the course. That course has got four modules and all the four modules would have subsequent tests, so they have to pass — and there is a minimum scoring as well on that particular course. And that is 75%, if I’m not wrong. And it’ll give you another attempt also, but you have to pass that course. You have to submit the screenshot of your final grades. And that becomes one of the requirements for PQA certification also. If you are not clear with that, we will not certify PQA certification to our participants.

Mike Hrycyk:
What does having The Accessibility Fundamentals Certification tell someone about you?

Abhishek Gupta:
I think this certification, even before outside PQA/PLATO, the confidence which we leaders and our team members have gotten from this certification is that this niche type of testing is no more new testing for us. Not only that we are equipped with the knowledge of how to use these tools, we know exactly why we are doing this. We know exactly how the country’s laws are being made and created and getting evolved based off the WCAG requirements. We know very clearly looking at an application at hand, which tool to apply first. Our course has given the team an idea that there are steps involved. You cannot just jump on a page and then apply four tools and start accessibility testing. It is always better, for an example, to do a quick free scan from the industry leaders’ tools, which are in market, AXC and WAVE, and then take those low hanging fruits of the defects and pass them over to the dev team and see whether they have ever applied a unit testing approach or the accessibility concept ever in their applications or not. Otherwise, you might just start running these screen readers and might spend three weeks into screen readers just to find that maybe the dev team would have provided a root fix. And then the second round of the test cycles should be done rather than jumping on every tool and every page altogether. So now we know very clearly the steps involved in accessibility testing and when to use, how much to use, when to stop, and when to pause. So, we have gotten a lot of confidence in this area after the certification.

Mike Hrycyk:
So is a person who’s certified are they — can they just go and become their own accessibility test or do we just put them alone into an accessibility engagement? What are their skill levels?

Abhishek Gupta:
Great question. PQA has always been transparent about our people’s skill and their level of expertise. This particular certification would not make them senior enough to run the show alone on a project. This particular course will a hundred percent enable them to be on any accessibility project, understand the requirement, and do the testing report the defects, for sure. One very important piece in accessibility testing is to find the defect and then map that defect with the associated WCAG requirement. And then also suggest what are the remediation steps or suggestions for that particular defect? So that is the reason our deliverable has always been giving this report to the client so that they know the defect and they know the WCAG requirement which is getting impacted and they know the remediation steps involved. And then we are ready to give a walkthrough of this particular testing report to their IT teams and managers, and even dev architects. So our certification is not going to have these people do this job alone. The way we approach any accessibility project is where we always have these certified people from our team, along with an experienced person, who has done some accessibility project in the past. So that is very much needed. And that particular part becomes a successful team on any complex project for that matter.

Mike Hrycyk:
So the lead is someone who presumably has this certification plus extra experience, then?

Abhishek Gupta:
Extra experience, yes, a hundred percent. And prerequisite is this certification without the certification we are not presenting our profiles to the clients from an accessibility requirement standpoint.

Mike Hrycyk:
So is there a plan to certify these accessibility leads?

Abhishek Gupta:
So these accessibility leads — right now in our company, all the leads who have got accessibility experience are certified if they are in the company for at least more than six months. But if we are having new hires who have got accessibility experience, this particular certification program is part of their onboarding process now.

Mike Hrycyk:
So what I mean is, is there room to extend your certification program to certify leads?

Abhishek Gupta:
Oh, the advanced level you meant?

Mike Hrycyk:
Yeah.

Abhishek Gupta:
Okay. Right now, Mike, we have been learning. So we have how many — we have completed three sessions. When I say three sessions, I mean three batches of accessibility certification. Right now, we sit at close to 40 plus certified professionals from this program. We have learned a lot from the first session to the recent one, which we did for our Victoria PLATO class of ours. And in parallel, we are supporting so many clients with new requirements too. There is room for improvements, and there is talk about having an advanced certification exclusively for, let’s say, screen readers or exclusively for let’s say mobile devices and things like that. But it’s hard to say when it is going to come probably in somewhere late 2022. There is a need, but we want to make sure the fundamental certification has everything before we move on to the advanced level.

Mike Hrycyk:
So let’s step back a little bit and think about certifications in general, whether it’s in testing or IT in general, and look at yourself, a person who has as multiple certifications. So part of the drive is simply growth. And I understand that part of PQA’s drive is to make sure we’re growing people in a skill area that we want, or desire, or need so that we have an understanding of the skills that we’re getting. So that’s good. It’s good for a customer or another employer to have an understanding of what they’re getting. There seems to be, and this is a completely unfair term — there’s like certification junkies, people who just want more certifications. What are we doing to fuel that? And, if you have any insight as to where that comes from, give that to us too. But I’m done with my certification. What do I get from PQA?

Abhishek Gupta:
So Mike, let me be sure that I got this question, correct. So we meant to ask what is the drive behind this particular certification program? Or as a client, what I’m going to get extra in terms of services?

Mike Hrycyk:
So not the client, the employee. Who takes it? What’s their drive to do it. Outside of growth. because we’ve talked about that already. And, what do they physically, and I’ll air quote physically, what do they get at the end of the program?

Abhishek Gupta:
So at the end of the program, they’re going to get this particular certification signed by our CEO, Keith McIntosh.

Mike Hrycyk:
So they get a certificate?

Abhishek Gupta:
Yeah. They get a physical certificate. We hand them over and also mention in the congratulations email that they can share that on their social network of choice. They can a hundred percent put this up on their profile as well. Now it matters a lot within PQA. As I mentioned that whenever we get accessibility requirements, we have a tracker running. We will go onto that tracker, and see whether that particular certified person is on a project or available for a client project, but what it matters for outside PQA, that’s something we cannot code. But for that person who has done certification through PQA’s program, that particular person we have seen is so proud to say that I am equipped with such a niche and an extra skill with me that I’m more sellable, I’m more ready to do this kind of testing work.

Mike Hrycyk:
So, people like the sense of accomplishment? They like to be able to broadcast their accomplishment.

Abhishek Gupta:
Yes, yes. We have seen that. Most of, most of the people have found this really a nice feather in the cap and a type of testing they never heard of before and never thought could be so interesting. And the social cause of how they are indirectly helping people with disability. And, this population is in the billions. We are talking about 15% of the world population who is impacted by some sort of disability. So I think that, in a lot of different ways, this has given positive feedback to all the certified professionals.

Mike Hrycyk:
So I know that we’ve talked about the course takers, the certified people that they really like it. So we’ve talked about that a bit. You’re the one who talks mostly to our clients about accessibility. What’s been the reception of the idea that we have certified people. Are they accepting of it? Are they like, ah, whatever, I don’t care? What did they seem to think about it?

Abhishek Gupta:
Yeah, I think that’s a very good question because, at home, a person can always feel more confident about their confidence and caliber. The real test is when you talk and showcase yourself outside because that is where you are out of your comfort zone. That is where the competition is in front of you. What we have been seeing is not only that our certified people are able to talk to the clients in a more technical way when it comes to accessibility testing, there has been a totally different trend nowadays we are seeing because this particular type of testing is related to compliance when it comes to accessibility laws. And clients are not taking it lightly either. They are asking us to go through a complex written test wherein they are going to give an application of their choice and will ask our accessibility-certified people to submit the result of that particular test, to give all the defects in WCAG mapping and all the resolution steps and remediation steps. And I’m proud to say that in the recent past, most of our accessibility-certified people were able to pass that written exam for the client. So that was the one confidence clients got that okay, I mean, they are saying that they are PQA certified at the same time, they’re able to pass the prerequisite test of getting onto their project. So we are seeing a lot of good feedback from the clients also taking PQA certified professionals onto their team.

Mike Hrycyk:
Hopefully, the next step with clients like those, or even other clients are that we actually gain a reputation. Where this particular certification is honoured for what it is. And then you don’t have clients who want to test your capabilities before they bring you on.

Abhishek Gupta:

Yeah, that’s the hope Mike, but that has given us also a lot of thought processes of having these tests done regularly because one thing which we do consciously at PQA is that we never go into overconfidence mode. So it is always good to keep on doing these internal tests and checks with even certified people. So we have this monthly TCoE, Testing Center of Excellence, which we have set up exclusively for accessibility. There are talks and chats about, let’s say a person might have learned some new tool or a new requirement on one of the client’s projects. So they would come and just share the experiences, go through some complex scenario, which cannot be picked up by screen reader A but could be picked up by scanner B and things like that. So it is always evolving, but we are proud to say that we are getting there. And we’ll be always ready to solve client pain areas in accessibility.

Mike Hrycyk:
Alright. So we’re running out of time, but I had two questions I wanted to still get to. So the first one is, I, myself, have heard from externals hey, that’s great. Can I take the certification? And I’m sure you’ve heard it as well. Do we have any plans for allowing our certification to be external? I know that we internally have offered up training to our clients and they’ve taken it, but we haven’t offered up certifications to our clients, much smaller sessions. Do you have any plans or thoughts around that?

Abhishek Gupta:
Unfortunately, no plans yet, Mike. Could be the future, but we want to keep it in-house for now as much as possible.

Mike Hrycyk:
I’m going to ask you why?

Abhishek Gupta:
I think this is the area where we want to get more coverage inside the company. First 40+ plus count is not very low but at the same time, we are learning a lot, doing more projects with the clients, and more sessions with the students. I think providing the certification program to everyone outside the company is something — I don’t want to say we are not ready yet. It’s just that, I mean, it is not being discussed or not in the plans yet.

Mike Hrycyk:
So I like that. I like the idea that, that we want to become even bigger experts before we go to the outside world and say — cause you have to be a hyper expert before you should be training things. So I get that. I mean, there’s also the aspect that we want to build our competitive edge before we start training our competitors. But I think that’s much smaller. Okay. So last question, before we, have to sign off what’s next? What’s our next certification path? Are we gonna become a certifier across all of the things testing? Do you have thoughts on that?

Abhishek Gupta:
Actually, with this certification success, we are seeing definitely we are talking about more certifications coming down the line. The one which we already started in the month of April is content migration and QA. So maybe we can do another chat about that. But yes, there are a lot of certifications to the fundamentals and to the need of the market which are in talks. And we are seeing a lot of other regional leaders and senior people who are coming forward and they have been seeing the different perspectives from their own team members who are needing more of such fundamental knowledge. So more certification coming along the way, Mike here at PQA/Plato.

Mike Hrycyk:
Yeah. I mean, personally, I really like targeting niches, where there isn’t as much training and there isn’t as much knowledge. So content migration and testing around that is really good. I also see performance testing as an area. I actually shy away from automation because there are so many tools. There are so many differences of opinion. There are so many different nuances that you would — I think you would have to target. And, in addition to that, there are tons and tons and tons of training out there for automation and I think it’s just sort of a minefield.

Abhishek Gupta:
Yeah. And I totally agree, Mike, and I think once you start trying to, I mean, do everything, then it is like too many things. And then the quality and the passion, kind of, just get distracted. So I think we will be very much specific after content migration or within content migration. I didn’t mean to digress on the topic, but we were very much specific about why we are doing it and what answer it is going to give and things like that.

Mike Hrycyk:
Awesome. Well, and just to plug PLATO a little bit, I mean, we already have a training program on the fundamentals of testing, so we’re certifying in a different way there. Okay. So we’re practically overtime here. I would like to thank you very much Abhishek. I have always been a booster and I’m very excited about our granting of certifications. I love the idea that people can understand what they’re getting when they get that certification. And I also really love that it’s an affirmation to our employees. It’s something that they can tangibly put up. They can tell their family and friends about it. It’s like, hey, I accomplished this. It’s really good. And it’s not as — not to downplay employee of the month things. are still pretty good. I know that people do that. And, I like the idea, but I think that this is better. This is a little more lifelong. It’s not just, hey, you did something great this month. It’s a lifelong skill. So, that’s really cool.

Mike Hrycyk:
So, I would like to thank you. I think that this talk has been great, and yeah, when we get to this certification granting capability on content migration, let’s have another chat and talk about what that looks like so people can understand it better. If any of you are out there and want to continue this conversation. More importantly, if anyone’s thinking about doing their own certification granting ideas, reach out to myself, reach out through our channels, and have a chat. We’ll hook you up with Abhishek because I think it’s really cool. You can find us at, @PQATesting on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or on our website. You can find links to all of our social media and website in the episode description. And if anyone out there wants to join in one of our podcast chats or offer up a topic that they would like to hear about reach out in the same way. If you are enjoying our conversations about everything, software testing, we’d love it if you could rate and review PQA panel talks on whatever platform you’re listing on. Thank you again for listing and we’ll talk to you again next time.

Abhishek is a QA evangelist who is passionate about quality assurance and testing at all levels of the organization. He is currently the Director of Service Delivery, Ontario, and also leads Web Accessibility TCoE at PQA. Abhishek is PMP and has played key roles throughout his career in positions like Service Center Manager, Delivery Manager, QA Portfolio Manager, and led Managed Services Testing Teams spread across the globe. Abhishek loves to train and coach teams in software testing and its principles.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/abhishek-gupta-pmp/

Mike Hrycyk has been trapped in the world of quality since he first did user acceptance testing 21 years ago. He has survived all of the different levels and a wide spectrum of technologies and environments to become the quality dynamo that he is today. Mike believes in creating a culture of quality throughout software production and tries hard to create teams that hold this ideal and advocate it to the rest of their workmates. Mike is currently the VP of Service Delivery, West for PQA Testing, but has previously worked in social media management, parking, manufacturing, web photo retail, music delivery kiosks and at a railroad. Intermittently, he blogs about quality at http://www.qaisdoes.com.

Twitter: @qaisdoes
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mikehrycyk/